My mom’s 15-month battle with cancer was a long one, cutting through my
freshman and sophomore years at Georgetown University. My days on
campus grew lonelier, as I felt no one could possibly understand what I
was going through or relate to my pain. Two weeks before mom left us,
she asked if I would be OK after she was gone. I told her “Yes” and
then a thought came to mind. I told her that I was also going to help
other students who were struggling with illness or death in her memory.
With a tender smile she said two words, “unconditional love.” From that
moment forward, I have been fulfilling that promise. My mission was
simple: To create a strong network of support for college students,
who, like me, were coping with the illness or death of a loved one, all
in my mom’s loving memory. And that’s exactly what I’ve done for the
last 3 years.
I wanted to give other students the thing that wasn’t there when I needed it – a hand, a shoulder, an ear – from people who understood because they’ve been through it. Students of AMF (“Ailing Mothers & Fathers” and my mom “Anne Marie Fajgenbaum’s” initials) launched as my best solution for the problem. We’re a student organization that offers peer grief support; opportunities for all college students to volunteer in memory of lost loved ones; faculty mentoring; and outreach activities targeted at grieving children in the community. I was blown away that in Students of AMF’s first year alone we grew to over 400 members and were named Georgetown University’s 2006 “Outstanding Direct Service Program.” The need around me was even greater than I’d imagined and everyone seemed to want to help in any way they could. Talk about amazing!
But grief in not just a Georgetown issue. I was stunned to discover that nearly half of all college students have grieved the death of a close friend or family member within the last two years. Word of Students of AMF quickly moved beyond my school so that before long college students and administrators across the country were ringing me up for information on how they could start their own chapters. It was time to go national! To meet the need, we created the National Students of AMF Support Network (www.StudentsofAMF.org), a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting college students with an ailing or deceased loved one and empowering all college students to get involved in the fight against terminal illness. The Network develops campus chapters; offers information and support online; hosts events like the annual Boot Camp 2 Beat Cancer; and raises awareness about college student grief. In just one year, 23 campus chapters have either developed or are currently developing.
Over the last year we have received quite a bit of recognition for our work, which has really helped us to spread our cause. I was named a 2007 BRICK Award winner for being a “young person who has changed the world;” a 2007 USA Today Academic All-USA First Team member; a finalist for the Rhodes scholarship; and the Reader’s Digest and Weekend Today Show “Make it Matter” May 2008 story of the month. Most importantly for me, I have had the pleasure of hearing from my peers nationwide about how our organization has helped them through their toughest moments and been there when they’ve needed it most.
While it has been very rewarding to work with these students, it hasn’t been easy. No one said it would be. Before mom passed away, I was unable to sleep because of the fear of losing my best friend. Now, I work all hours of the night for the opportunity to maybe, just maybe make it a little bit easier for someone else coping with illness or loss – fulfilling my last promise to my mom. It doesn’t get any better than that.
While this promise began with Students of AMF, it doesn’t end there. I am honoring my mom with my career choices as well. Today, I am a Masters student in Public Health at Oxford University, studying new ways to prevent cancer and heart disease in populations through large-scale interventions. Next year, I will start medical school at the University of Pennsylvania where I will study oncology. Basically, I’m going to keep doing my part to ensure that others don’t have to struggle through the same experience that I did.
My mother’s generous and compassionate spirit has found new life in the thousands of students impacted by Students of AMF. We continue to expand our mission of supporting all grieving college students on campuses throughout the country. This all started as a pact between my mom and me. It has now transformed into a friend for students whose hearts, spirits, and memories need a lift from those who know. We know and we can help. Welcome to Students of AMF, we are here for you.
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